This year, the most prestigious art award in the UK, the Turner Prize awarded by the Tate Modern, went in the hands of the people who do not consider themselves artists. Yesterday, on December 7th, eighteen members of the Assemble collective were presented with the award in Glasgow, and they were the first winners whose work does not fall under the field of visual arts in the strictest sense. Comprised of 18 creatives who work in architecture and design, Assemble collective have been nominated for their ongoing public project in Liverpool, a joint venture with the local community that involves the reinvention of deteriorated houses in the Granby Four Streets.
Along with Assemble collective the other nominees for this year’s Turner Prize included: Bonnie Camplin, Janice Kerbel, Nicole Wermers. Bonnie Camplin has been nominated for The Military Industrial Complex, a project that examines the notion of conscious reality, noted for its evocation of conspiracy theories. Janice Kerbel earned her nomination with the performance piece DOUG and Nicole Wermers became nominee after her exhibition Infrastruktur that deals with the themes of lifestyle, class, consumption and control. Outside of the gallery context, turning away from the art market, Assemble collective presented a wooden prototype of one of the houses in Granby in south Liverpool they have been revamping with the locals. The Turner Prize nomination for the Assemble came as a surprise to the collective and the public sparking the debates whether their work was art or a socially engaged design practice. If we decide to take it as the other, then why are they getting the Turner Prize reserved for outstanding contemporary art achievements.
Ever since the Turner Prize was established one of the main questions asked by the critics regarding the winners, nominees and their work was - “Is this art?” It is often noted that the selection of the nominees depended on the shock value of the exhibitions like Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, Tracey Emin’s My Bed, Grayson Perry’s controversial pots with explicit sexual content. However, we can argue that contemporary art has lost its shocking value and in relation to this idea it is not surprising that a non-pretentious project won the prize this year. The question “Is this art?” is still present, but the context has changed this year.
Established in 2010, Assemble collective based in London advocates a collaborative working practice, the one that involves the active participation of the local community members. Their work is also dependent on the unity of artistic media, bringing together art, crafts, design, and architecture. All these elements inspired commentators to see their work as the extension of design manifesto of William Morris and to reinterpret their endeavors in relation to Arts and Crafts movement. Therefore, the work of Assemble continues the line of artisans who bring together art and everyday life, creating the works “by the people and for the people”. Although many were critical of the decision to feature Assemble collective as nominees, the Turner Prize judges recognized their work in the Granby Four Streets as a work of art rather than architecture, arguing that it did more to “change the way people live” than other exhibitions. The work of Assemble collective is indisputably praiseworthy considering the social context and their critique of corporate gentrification, but considering the history of Turner Prize winners it surely came as a surprise. Is this a change for the better?
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Featured image: Assemble collective. Photo via standard.co.uk. All images used for illustrative proposes.